Are Peace Talks with Pakistan an Illusion!

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(Brig (retd) GB Reddi)

Following Modi and Nawaz Sharif meeting on the sidelines of COP-21 Summit in Paris, the national security advisors of India and Pakistan – Ajit Doval and Lt Gen (retd) Naseer Khan Janjua – met in Bangkok on 6 December in yet another attempt to restart “constructive engagement”.

The official press release issued mentioned “Discussions covered peace and security, terrorism, Jammu and Kashmir, and other issues, including tranquility along the LoC. It was agreed to carry forward the constructive engagement “.

As per unconfirmed reports, “discussions were substantial. India had questions about how Pakistan will ensure that terrorist groups operating from its soil do not stage strikes, while Pakistan had some ideas on reviving a substantial, results-oriented dialogue on Kashmir. There was no polemic or grandstanding.”

Quite obviously, Modi and the BJP is making a desperate attempt to make a breakthrough on the external affairs front having failed to address livelihood concerns and to provide meaningful “Acche Din” even after 19 months to the common man. Furthermore, Modi led NDA has reneged on its commitment not to hold talks on foreign soil, which clearly reflects the latest initiative under pressure.

If one is to believe unconfirmed reports in Indian media, Modi’s counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan Prime Minister, too is under pressure from international community to break the diplomatic deadlock.

Let me recount the significant developments of the recent past.

(a) Kashmir was not mentioned in the press statement issued after the meeting of two PMs in Ufa (Russia) in July, 2015 on the sidelines of SCO Summit.

(b) The Ufa statement included 6 points: meeting in New Delhi between the two NSAs to discuss all issues connected to terrorism; early meetings of DG BSF and DG Pakistan Rangers followed by that of DGMOs; release of fishermen along with their boats, within a period of 15 days; mechanism for facilitating religious tourism; discuss ways and means to expedite the Mumbai case trial; and acceptance of invitation by Modi to visit Pakistan for the SAARC Summit in 2016. Naturally, there was political backlash in Pakistan against Nawaz Sharif.

(c) Newly-elected Modi government called off trip of foreign secretary Sujatha Singh to Islamabad, when Pakistan ambassador met with Hurriyat leader in Delhi in 2014.  Also, Hurriyat leaders were confined to their home in Delhi and Srinagar to prevent them from meeting of Sartaz Aziz, NSA, which led to the cancellation of his visit.

(d) Escalated ceasefire violations, infiltration attempts and terror strikes in J & K, which clearly reflected the opposition of Pakistan Army, the real power center, and also the militant outfits like JeM, LeT etc.

(e) There is also a change in the NSA in Pakistan – Sartaj Aziz has been replaced by  Lt Gen (retd) Naseer Khan Janjua, a former Chief of Southern Command responsible for operations in Baluchistan.

Both sides retract

Quite apparently, both sides have retracted from their rigid stands of the past. Both Kashmir and terror have formed part of the latest joint statement. It is yet another attempt to break the diplomatic deadlock over peace engagement.  Both nations are claiming the latest broadening agenda as a significant move forward in pursuit of peace and stability.

More importantly, the latest meeting is said to pave the way for the visit of Sushma Swaraj, MEA, and the Modi, the PM, to visit Pakistan to attend the SAARC Summit in 2016.

In retrospect, the claims of significant diplomatic breakthrough by both sides may be viewed simply as “grandstanding”.  After all, there are many other actors with very high stakes in the resolution of outstanding disputes between the two nations. Surely, they would oppose tooth and nail any reapproachment.

On the Indian side, the first salvo has been fired by the Congress Party, which has termed it as the ‘great betrayal’ by Modi government.

Likes of Farooq Abdullah and Mani Shankar Aiyar may emphatically reiterate the need for accepting the LoC as the international border along with freedom of movement across open borders, but what about forging consensus among the broad political spectrum.

Open borders, may prove more disastrous

After all, open borders would inevitably provide free access to terror and militant groups to carry out their strikes with impunity. Furthermore, there will be certainly illegal migrations that may change the current demographic equilibrium in interior areas.  Given the past track record of a large number of Pakistanis to witness the cricket match failing to go back to their country, can India afford to be so liberal?

In contrast, there are too many ‘power centers’ in Pakistan.  Surely, Pakistan Army would not like to concede its dominant space to civilian authority. So also, the mullah-militant nexus will not accept their sudden diminution. After all, militancy for them is employment; otherwise unemployment. Can Pakistan afford to wind up over 40 militant camps harboring J & K militants and throw them back across the border and if so their fallout in J & K?

More importantly, the TTP and other Afghan militants operating from within also would like to have they say in final outcomes.  Add to them, the ‘gangs’ roaming freely in the by lanes of Karachi.

Finally, the drug mafia and the ‘Dons” too have a major stake in maintaining status quo of a failed state since it enables them to carry out their nefarious activities with impunity.

Ipso facto, Pakistan’s economic situation is on the downslide.  For them, peace with India provides a strategic opportunity to financially benefit from the “Transit Fees” on account of commissioning the TAPI-gas pipeline.  Pakistan stands to gain more than India if free trade is permitted across the border.

Even the “China” factor – all weather and tested friend and brother – cannot be left out of consideration.

 

China factor

India too has to take into consideration the final “Afghan” factor – whether it acts under the dominant influence of Pak-China combine or remain neutral.  China would not like to see its strategic ally to squander its ‘vice’ like grip over South Asia in Pakistan’s moment of despair after having invested so much in their partnership to cow down India from emerging as a rival super power. And, even nuclear factor cannot be left out of consideration. Surely, Modi-Ajit Doval combine cannot be viewed solely as paragons of political wisdom.

In retrospect, Modi must concentrate more on pressing domestic issues and ensure consistent growth of over 8% GDP so that India emerges more strongly after 2019.

Viewed in such a holistic context, Modi-led NDA government needs carefully tread it peace path instead of achieving a short term political gain to claim a major success before the domestic audience.

“There is many a slip between the cup and the lip.”

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